Monday, September 18, 2006

Book Beat

My latest "Book Beat" column from Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence, the magazine of the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference:

THE CLOSERS by Michael Connelly
In my opinion, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch has had one of the more complex story arcs of series characters in modern mystery fiction, and Connelly has written a consistently engaging series. In this entry, Bosch rejoins the L.A. police force after a short stint as a private investigator, coming back to the Cold Case unit. The first case appears to be a slam dunk after a DNA match surfaces many years after the murder. But, naturally, nothing comes easy to Bosch and he is right back hip-deep in possible police corruption as well as a murder that shattered a family. Another compelling story in this admirable series.

THE ICE SOLDIER by Paul Watkins
A traumatized World War II veteran has settled down to life as a schoolteacher, eager to forget a mountain-climbing mission in the war that ended in tragedy; but a chain of circumstances sends our reluctant hero back to the mountain that almost ended his life years before. Watkins’ latest is a blend of high adventure and World War II action, written in a crisp, self-deprecating style. Fans of Len Deighton and Jack Higgins should seek out Watkins’ diverse body of work.

Ed Gorman writes solidly in both the mystery and western genres, and this one is a slice of both; a town marshal in an increasingly tame West tries to keep out from under the thumb of the most powerful man in town, but when the man’s son breaks the law the two men go head-to-head. Drawn into the maelstrom is the marshal’s wife, who as it turns out has an ex-husband who inconveniently finds himself dead in a local hotel. A nicely-paced mystery with western overtones will satisfy fans of both genres.

Irish writer Ken Bruen presents one of the most tarnished antiheroes in noirdom with Jack Taylor, a disgraced cop and reluctant investigator who walks a fine line between disaster and salvation as he solves crimes. In the latest in the series, Taylor kicks his various addictions largely because his drug dealer has gone to jail. When the dealer convinces Taylor to look into a suspicious “accidental” death of a young woman, Taylor tears the lid off of a lot of issues he probably wished he’d never been involved with. Downbeat, but written with a sardonic sense of humor and a deft sense of Irish culture and custom.

From the entirely excellent Hard Case Crime series comes this lost classic from the writer of the long-running 87th Precinct police procedurals. Matt Cordell is for all intents and purposes a bum, but in a previous life had been a private eye; so when a sympathy case of finding some lightly embezzled money turns into full-throttle murder, Cordell has to set aside the bottle for a while and make things right again. Tough-talking and hard-boiled, more so than the usual from Ed McBain. One wonders if Lawrence Block, with his alcoholic private eye Matt Scudder, had a dog-eared copy of this one under his pillow.

GRIFTER’S GAME by Lawrence Block
And speaking of Lawrence Block, he also appears in the Hard Case Crime series with this poisonous tale of a genial scam artist who falls head over heels for a woman who, as noir conventions dictate, nudges him over the edge into the murder of an in-the-way husband. When the husband turns out to be a big-time drug dealer, the train starts to go off the tracks. A surprisingly bleak finale—even for a noir story—caps this nicely-done entry in the Hard Case Crime series.

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